January 1, 2013
Bring on 2013 and more wonderful chocolate moments.
2012 has been quite some year in my world of chocolate. So before we dive off into 2013 I thought I would like to take a moment to look back and share a few of my highlights. So here it is, in no particular order, my 2012 chocolate top ten:
Original Beans Cru Virunga dark bar
In many ways this is where I started. Phillip Kauffman was one of the first people I interviewed for this site, and I have been eating and enjoying Original Beans beautiful tasting chocolate for a few years now. Their story of four bars, and the communities of growers they support, is an inspiring business model and another good reason to eat their chocolate. Each of these bars is distinct and great, but Cru Virunga has become one that I cannot live without. It is my default dark chocolate, a small piece of which is always at hand and always gives me a lift.
Paul A Young’s Pimms Cocktail chocolate
Paul is one of the first people I talked to about my obsession with chocolate and with whom I ate truly fine chocolate. His gold award winning salted caramel is peerless, and the millionaires shortbread he has made with that same spectacular salted caramel has to be one of the finest baked goods in London. But I have chosen his Pimm’s Cocktail chocolate because it was such a revelation. Not something I expected to like at all, and yet it has remained in my thoughts all year. The fruity dark chocolate shell and perfectly smooth ganache hold a little journey of tastes; fresh cucumber, boozy fruits and the Brit’s favourite summer’s day tipple. It mystifies me how he does it. A veritable Willie Wonka chewing gum of a chocolate.
Hot Chocolate at Un Dimanche à Paris
I spend a fair amount of time in Paris, and am enjoying writing about Parisian chocolate for Girl’s Guide to Paris. This glorious café, boutique, restaurant, bar and chocolate school created by Pierre Cluizel is a true discovery. It is a place full of delectable and intriguing things. Their chocolate covered spices are more-ish and tongue-tinglingly yummy. Here I have nominated their hot chocolate, quite simply because I have never tasted better. It is rich, smooth, and made of the finest full-flavoured chocolate. Worth visiting Paris for.
Professional highlight of the year: Judging at the inaugural International Chocolate Awards
Hanging out with, learning from, and being inspired by the top chocolate experts in the world. Tasting the best the world has to offer flown in especially for our consideration. Seeing great innovation, skill and creativity appreciated, awarded and celebrated. It doesn’t get much more exciting in the world of chocolate.
Pacari Raw 70% dark bar
Equadorian chocolate maker Pacari swept the boards with more awards won at The International Chocolate Awards than any other company. This bar won the daddy of the awards, the one gold medal given in the world finals for best dark bar. And it is stunning, complex, fruity and green, with layers of intense flavour that are clearly representative of the cocoa from which it is created. A future classic.
Damian Allsop’s Eat London Bar – Chinatown
Also an award winner at the awards, this bar is a glorious surprise. It stood out for its excellence and sheer yumminess even amongst the mass of chocolate tasted during the opening rounds. I am a big fan of Damian’s chocolates, and his Pure collection of water based ganaches is probably the box of chocolates I would most like Santa to leave under the tree. But I also adore this bar. It is milk chocolate, which I am generally less passionate about, and it’s combination of roasted peanut, soy sauce and ginger could be challenging. But it works on so many levels, sweet and salty, smooth and crunchy, familiar tastes and yet alive with unusual umami notes. You must try and it and see.
Rococo Chocolate’s Gru Grococo 66% dark bar.
This is Rococo’s joint venture with the groundbreaking Grenada Chocolate Company which allows me to big up both at once. Both pioneers and shining examples of passionate chocolate companies, they are doing great and delicious work. This bar is simply very good to eat. It starts gloriously fruity, with tastes of greengage and cherry, which mellow into a full smoky, dark honeyed cocoa, without a hint of bitterness.
William Curley’s Jaffa Cake
I would not turn down the offer of anything from William Curley’s gourmet repertoire. A visit to his Belgravia boutique for the chocolate tasting menu is high on my wish list for 2013. The Jaffa Cake, one of his ingenious reinventions of childhood classics, is without doubt one of my stand out scrummy moments of 2012. It evokes the original with affection and a memory-inducing taste accuracy, but every element is special and new, from the feather-light sponge, to the deep caramelised marmalade and the perfectly matched dark Amedei shell. Heaven on a plate.
Friis-Holm Nicaraguan 55% dark milk bar
One of only two medals for milk chocolate bars in the world finals of The International Chocolate Awards, was deservedly won by this stunning chocolate from Copenhagen. My stock phrase; “I like it, for a milk chocolate” can no longer apply. I like it, full stop. In fact I truly, unreservedly love it! I have some right now, but I am already panicking, Gollum like, how I am going to protect my small stash, and how I am to secure a future supply when the chocolate genius that is Mikkel Friis-Holm doesn’t have the sense to live next door to me. It is as sensuously smooth as chocolate can be, with a comforting embrace of caramel and cocoa. However it also has all the complexity of a great dark chocolate, with clear notes of olive and nut characteristic of its Nicaraguan beans. A wonderful thing!
Best Chocolate Event; Chocolate Unwrapped, London
One room filled with all of the above creators and their creations, and many more besides. All of my top ten in one place! (Leaving aside the Parisian Pierre Cluizel, and maybe he might be persuaded to come next year making my joy complete.) The brainchild of Kate Johns, Chocolate Unwrapped has become a must visit in the diary of any serious chocophile, and I was there from the start of day one until close of play on the final day. I couldn’t bring myself to leave!
On that note I will look forward to 2013, only nine and a half months to go until Chocolate Unwrapped 2013 on the 19th and 20th of October. I promise to have many more chocolate adventures before then, and report back to you as I go. Happy New Year!